Book Review: The Last Secret of the Temple by Paul Sussman (Three Stars)


Book Review: The Last Secret of the Temple (Yusuf Kalifa #2) by Paul Sussman

(Three Stars)

(Spoiler Warning)

“That’s the problem with the past, isn’t it? It’s never really past. It’s always there. Clinging on. Like a leech. Sucking out the blood.”

“Columbo” does “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Great, if derivative, concept.

‘No object on earth is more sacred to us Continue reading

Book Review: Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips (five stars)


Book Review: Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips

(five stars)

“The authorities still have nothing to say about your girl? Here the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Ministry of Emergency Situations have been looking for these Russian sisters tirelessly.” “It wasn’t that way with us.”

War and Peace meets Murder She Wrote. Unsolved crimes; parental anguish; ineffectual police; racial, familial, economic, and immigrant issues weave into this complex but tight tale of near-contemporary Russian Kamchatka, which is as close as the modern world gets to terra incognita. Not quite five stars, but close enough.

“You haven’t noticed by now that you can’t trust them? They don’t care about us the same way they care about themselves.”

Readers are propelled deep into not one but two disappearances in places and cultures totally foreign to American readers. No Jessica Fletcher. Despite that, whether intentionally or accidentally, the plot and people feel familiar.

“She spent her youth in the brief reckless period between the Communists’ rigidity and Putin’s strength, and though she had grown into a boundary enforcer … within herself there remained a post-Soviet child. Some part of her did crave the wild.”

The culprit’s identity is apparent halfway through, but not how Phillips will close the story. She does in a very satisfying denouement manner. That issues remain is merely real.

“This is how it went: the closer you were to someone, the more you lied. Telling the truth was a thrill not found with her mother, who needed Olya to take merry care of their household, or with Diana, who made Olya measure herself out by request.”

Readers unfamiliar with Russian naming conventions may be confused, despite Phillips’ helpful list of principal characters. Many characters have three or four names, depending on who is talking. However, it also helps convey the complexity of relationships.

“It hurts too much to break your own heart out of stupidity, to leave a door unlocked or a child untended and return to discover that whatever you value most has disappeared. No. You want to be intentional about the destruction. Be a witness. You want to watch how your life will shatter.”


Christ in You, the Hope of Glory

“The only way to see his glory is to tell him to have his way in us.” Kristin Davis

“To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27)

Christ’s coming was not a one-time event two thousand years ago. He can be present in you now–as a witness, as a surety, as a guide, as a glory.

Book Review: Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon (Four Stars)


Book Review: Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Four Stars

“You know the secret which is the key to my life.”

Unexpectedly good fiction. As deep and introspective as the best modern storytelling though written 150 years ago. Nineteenth century England produced many treasures apparently hidden to American readers by the glare of modernity. A mystery and a romance, of sorts. Based, as they say today, on a true story.

“Life is such a troublesome matter … that it’s as well even to take its blessings quietly.”

Braddon takes the reader deep into both male and female characters. That all is not as it appears is obvious, but what it turns out to be Continue reading

Book Review: The Christmas Train by David Baldacci (Three Stars)


Book Review: The Christmas Train by David Baldacci, read by Tim Matheson

Four Stars

A fun, seasonal story. The blurb claims Baldacci is “one of America’s most critically acclaimed storytellers.” Never heard of him. It is a good story–mixing (rail)road trip, mystery, romance, humor and advocacy (for increased Amtrak funding). Has a good heart.

A fun read listen. Perfect tale for whiling away the miles on a road trip of my own.

Concern: Current revelations of sexual misconduct in Hollywood are reflected in one character. What goes on is Hollywood, like Las Vegas, is an open secret which our society has winked and Continue reading

Book Review: Lord Peter Views the Body by Dorthy L. Sayers (Two Stars)


Book Review: Lord Peter Views the Body (Lord Peter Wimsey #4) by Dorothy L. Sayers

Two Stars.

“Built noticin’–improved with practice.”

This anthology of early Wimsey shorts reminds me why I hate anthologies. Authors (or, more likely, publishers) sweep up all the bits and pieces of a successful author or authors and foist it on the public as great literature. The resulting collection is often–as in this case–mediocre at best.

“Nobody minds coarseness, but one must draw the line at cruelty.”

Especially avoid the novelette: “The Undignified Melodrama of the Bone of Contention.” Dreadful. “The Fascinating Problem of Uncle Meleager’s Will” will enthrall crossword puzzle enthusiasts, without leaving the rest of us clueless.

“Bunter likes me to know my place.”

Sayers wrote for different readers. She assumes a level of French and Latin literacy rare among Americans today. Wonder how contemporary (1920s) English did.

“It is … dangerous to have a theory.”

Book Review: A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George (Four Stars)

Book Review: A Great Deliverance (Inspector Lynley #1) by Elizabeth George

Four Stars

“A vestige of time dead, being devoured by time to come.”

Lord Peter Wimsey rides again, sort of. An updated lord-as-sleuth tale with a grittier approach than Dorothy Sayers original from the 1920s. This series, from the 1980s, reflects more modern times, but still the quintessential England of literature and music as much as manors and manners. Not at all a Holmesian tale; much more personal and pyshological. (One hopes the BBC didn’t rape these as they did the Cadfael mysteries.)

“The police were antagonists to be thwarted rather than allies to be helped.”

Deep, complex characters. Everyone has a skeleton, if not a demon, in his or her closet. This book takes the reader deep inside the heads of just about everyone as New Scotland Yard investigates a horrific crime in Yorkshire. (I visited the Yorkshire dales in the late 80s, George’s good descriptions fail to express the bleakness and the beauty. Words fail.) This book is not for the timid or weak stomached. That more than one character vomits is appropriate and realistic. (You’ve been warned.)

“One can’t run forever.” “I can.”

The accents and vocabulary are a bit over-the-top, especially of the Americans, who I’m sure are portrayed just as most British viewed us then. George occasionally slips: “Bob’s your uncle” is not an expression Americans would use.

“The whole situation was an irritating, howling, political maelstrom of thwarted ambition, error and revenge. He was sick of it.”

Americans forget–more likely never knew–that England in the 1980s (when this book was written) was more socially divided that the United States today. Margaret Thatcher’s election set off a cultural war the likes of which we are just now seeing here. English were (I lived in Oxfordshire in the 1980s) much more class conscious. The attitudes expressed by Sergeant Havers were typical of commoners then. English gender attitudes are integral to the plot as well.

“Mothers have a way of taking things a bit personally. Haven’t you noticed?”

The text suffers jarring shifts in point of view, which perhaps were caused or exacerbated by formatting issues. Apparently this edition is an optical scan of the original text; numerous errors have slipped in. (“Shell stand that,” when “She’ll stand that” was obviously meant.) Do all English call speakers amplifiers? As in, “Enormous amplifiers sat in all four corners, creating at the center a vortex of sound.” (I know what council houses, boots and dust bins are; not what Americans think.)

“… before Lot finds me.”

Great writing. Great characterizations. Intense drama and conflict. But also a story of courage and compassion. Quite the climax, and yet plenty gaps are left in our knowledge of Havers and Lynley to engage the reader in his further cases. Looking forward to more.

“Death closes all.”

Book Review: The Devil’s Novice by Ellis Peters (Four Stars)

Book Review: The Devil’s Novice (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael #8) by Ellis Peters

Four Stars

“There’s many a young man has got his hearts wish, only to curse the day he wished for it.”

Upon my fourth reading, I raise my rating one star because this story compares so well with other historical fiction. In addition to the murder mystery, this tale brings to the reader an understanding of a historical setting which borders on the mythic, an introduction to a medieval craft (in this case, making charcoal), reflections on life then and now, a love story, and the fun of a tale well told.

“He’s innocent enough, God knows, to believe that other men are as honest as he.”

Readers seeking a story grounded closer to fact than the average epic fantasy, which usually loses itself in horses that run forever, swords that never dull, clerics who call down lightning bolts and enough nihilism for a lifetime, Edith Pargeter’s series on the life and times of this former Crusader and now monastic should be welcome. That’s why I’m on my fourth reading of this series.

“Despair is a deadly sin, but worse it is mortal folly.”

Book Review: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch (Five Stars)

Book Review: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Five Stars

“If you go in with fear, fear is what you find.”

Totally awesome. The best science fiction I’ve read this year. Called a science fiction thriller and a romance, it goes beyond many genre expectations. Explores how choices relate to identity. We are who we chose to be.

“I have total control, but only to the extent that I have control over myself.”

Well-conceived, well-developed, well-written.

“I’m not allowed to think I’m crazy. I’m only allowed to solve this problem.”

The title, of course, is a pun. The story only tangentially relates to Continue reading

Book Review: Music Box Girl by R. A. Dawson (Three Stars)

Book Review: Music Box Girl by K. A. Stewart

Three Stars

(Warning: There be spoilers here.)

“We gravitate toward disaster.”

Phantom of the Opera starring R. Daneel Olivaw. Too obscure? How ‘bout C3PO?

Great concept, borrowing liberally from Phantom and Pygmalion, Frankenstein, and Aladdin. Was wavering between four and five star ratings until I reached the climax. If it’d been a book (rather than an iPad), I’d have thrown it against the wall. You’ve got to be kidding. Syrupy and illogical for starters.

“Life is too short to censor oneself.”

It shouldn’t be too short to proofread one’s writing however. Parts read like a rough draft. Awkward sentence structures and confusing antecedents. Not to mention the ending. Stewart can do better.

“Age brings perspective.”

Don’t see that happening to the main human characters. Yes, Tony, you should have told them, but if you’d had a brain there wouldn’t have been a story. Still, this has great potential as a movie. The Marvel crowd would love it, silly ending and all.

“You never know when there won’t be a ‘later.’”

A thought: aficionados of science fiction are so used to Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics that we forget those are just one man’s construct. Stewart reminds us that robots–even self-aware robots–know nothing of empathy or compassion. They focus on effectiveness and efficiency. If human beings happen to get in the way, they get crushed.

“Sometimes you just couldn’t wait for Spring.”